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March 14, 2012

Widow of F-22 pilot sues Lockheed and other key contractors

The widow of the Air Force pilot killed in the November 2010 crash of an F-22 jet in Alaska has filed suit in federal court in Chicago against Lockheed Martin, Boeing and other members of the contractor team that produced the stealth air-to-air fighter.

Capt. Jeff Haney was killed when the aircraft's on-board oxygen generating system apparently failed and he was unable to reach and activate the emergency cockpit oxygen system before losing consciousness.

In its official investigation the Air force concluded the oxygen system malfunctioned but, as is so often the case, the crash was blamed on "human factors," short for some kind of pilot error. 

The Pentagon inspector general has since launched its own investigation of the Air Force’s handling of the crash probe. Facing a number of reports of pilots having breathing problems, the Air Force grounded its F-22s for weeks on end but never came up with an answer.

In the lawsuit, Anna Haney seeks damages for wrongful death, product liability, negligence, breach of warranty and fraud. Courthouse News details Haney's allegations:

 "On November 16, 2010 and at the time the F-22 Raptor aircraft left the control of Lockheed, it was unreasonably defective in that:
     "a) it was designed manufactured, distributed and sold with an Onboard Oxygen Generating System (OBOGS), Environmental Control System (ECS), and other life support systems that did not safely or properly provide breathable oxygen to the pilot operating the aircraft;
     "b) it was designed, manufactured, distributed and sold with the dangerous and defective propensity to supply the pilot with oxygen contaminated by harmful elements and compounds by the OBOGS, the ECS and the engine bleed air system ...
     "h) it was designed, manufactured, distributed and sold with dangerous and defective life support system warnings as there were none;
     "i) it was designed, manufactured, distributed and sold with a dangerous and defective oxygen backup system that did not automatically provide life support or breathable oxygen to the pilot in the event of a malfunction;
     "j) it was designed, manufactured, distributed and sold with a dangerous and defective backup oxygen system which could be activated only manually, and whose manual activation mechanism was located underneath and behind the pilot, in an area impossible for a pilot to reach while he or she maneuvered the sophisticated aircraft at speeds exceeding the speed of sound and while he or she experienced forces many times the force gravity".

Mark Thompson, on Time's Battleland blog, links to past articles on survivor's difficulty in seeking compensation for the loss of their loved one and their future earnings. In some more recent cases, notably the V-22 crashes of 2000 that killed 23 Marines, the contractors did settle out of court with the victims families. Lawyers say there is financial scale used for determining such awards and settlements.

- Bob Cox








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